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Rising Gender-neutral Baby Names (and How They Got That Way)

One of the most interesting trends in baby naming is how a name can flip-flop from the masculine to the feminine, or can be used simultaneously for either sex.

What gives a name these gender-dividing (or gender-equalizing) qualities? And more than that — can we predict whether a name is on the verge of switching sides?

Perhaps you think that it shouldn’t matter — that a girl name on a boy shouldn’t be embarrassing — but we all know the harassment that a Haley or Mackenzie (both originally boy names) could endure at the lunch table nowadays. Madison used to be a boy name, but when there are now over 12,000 Madison girls born a year, would you give that name to your son?

And although a boy name on a girl is more often seen as cutesy and off-beat, it can be a real pain (as evidenced by this blogger who recounts all of the explanations, job-interview losses, and even a jail threat because of her typically male name).

Maybe you try to avoid unisex names altogether, or maybe you just don’t care about the “rules” — and that’s absolutely your prerogative — but there are gender changes on the baby-naming front that you might not realize.

Here are the gender-neutral names that are quickly climbing the ranks — many of which are in the process of switching sides or sitting on the fence:

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  • Harper 1 of 17
    Harper
    Back in the 1800s, Harper was strictly a boy name before dropping off the grid in the early 1900s. Then suddenly Harper was back a century later, and it's very quickly skyrocketed to one of the hottest girl name choices of the moment. Although it's still rising as a boy name, only 399 boys born in 2011 were named Harper, compared to over 4,600 Harper girls. Something to keep in mind.

    Photo: Amazon
  • Finley 2 of 17
    Finley
    Finley is traditionally a male name, and it's now growing in popularity because of the "Finn" trend. (Chris O'Donnell used it for one of his twin boys.) Yet it somehow had a gender switch in the last decade, with almost twice as many Finley babies being girls than boys last year. (A few celebrities, like Lisa Marie Presley, named their little girls Finley. Coincidentally, Lisa named her other daughter Harper.)

    It's a rising name for both genders, but slightly more for the girls.

    Photo: 310Pix.com (Lisa Marie Presley)
  • Charlie 3 of 17
    Charlie
    This nickname-y name is climbing up the charts for both boys and girls — but especially for girls. It's one of the fastest-rising names for girls right now, especially when you consider all of the different spellings (like Charley, Charli, Charlee, and Charleigh), which accounted for over 2,700 births in 2011. (Comparatively there were 1500 boys born with "Charlie" on the birth certificate).

    Of course Charles is still very much a boy name, but the name Charlie is becoming the new Sam.

    Photo: Wikipedia (Charlie Brown)
    Photo: 310Pix.com (Actress Kaylee DeFer, played "Charlie" on Gossip Girl)
  • Tatum 4 of 17
    Tatum
    Tatum is one of the very rare names that started as a girl name and is now sidestepping over to the boys' side (most likely with the help of actor Channing Tatum). It's rising at a pretty equal pace for boys and girls, but it's still more common as a female name — though the scales could certainly start to shift.

    Photo: 310Pix.com (Tatum O'Neal)
    Photo: PacificCoastNews.com (Tatum Channing)
  • Peyton 5 of 17
    Peyton
    While this unisex name can also be spelled as Payton, both genders prefer the Peyton spelling (the alternate spelling is typically used more for girls).

    If you're thinking of naming your little boy Peyton (after football star Peyton Manning, perhaps?), know that this has actually become much more popular as a girl name (hovering around the Top 50 mark), while the boy Peyton is starting to drop in the ranks. Regardless that Peyton means "fighting man's estate," the girls have certainly snatched this one for themselves — made popular by a main character on One Tree Hill.

    Photo: Wikipedia (Peyton Manning)
    Photo: PacificCoastNews.com (Hilarie Burton, "Peyton" on One Tree Hill)
  • Hadley 6 of 17
    Hadley
    Hadley is one of the most recent examples of a unisex name that's now firmly a female name. And if Hadley keeps following the skyward trajectory it's been on (currently up to #178), it could be a chart-topper in no time.

    Photo: Amazon
  • Bentley 7 of 17
    Bentley
    Even though Bentley entered the Top 1,000 for girl names in 2011, it simultaneously had a skyrocketing leap over in the boy camp. (Perhaps because of Teen Mom Maci's son?) This is one of the few unisex names that is disproportionately rising for boys.

    Photo: Wikipedia
  • Quinn 8 of 17
    Quinn
    Quinn is another example of a unisex surname name that's been on the rise for girls and boys. And although there are still more Quinn boys than girls, it probably won't be that way for the next generation. Quinn is slowly starting to decline in the ranks for boys while rising sharply for girls — perhaps because of a certain Glee Cheerio (and let's not forget the Medicine Woman). This is the perfect example of how pop-culture can feminize a traditionally male name.

    Photo: 310Pix.com (Dianna Agron)
  • Hayden 9 of 17
    Hayden
    The boy version of Hayden is still more popular than the feminine version (due to a meteoric rise throughout the '90s and early 2000s), but the stats show that the scale might be shifting. Boy Hayden is starting to decline while Girl Hayden is on the rise — perhaps because Heroes star Hayden Panettiere is making the name more feminine.

    Photo: PacificCoastNews.com (Hayden Panettiere)
  • Blake 10 of 17
    Blake
    Blake is on the rise for both boys and girls, although it's still holding onto its masculinity as a Top 100 name for boys. As a girl name, it entered the Top 1,000 in 2011 — making it one of the many new unisex names to rank for girls.

    Photo: 310Pix.com (Blake Lively)
    Photo: Wikipedia (Blake Shelton)
  • Parker 11 of 17
    Parker
    Although more popular for boys, Parker is on the rise for both boys, where it ranked #79 in 2011, and girls, where it has slowly climbed the top 1000, so far peaking at #366 last year.

    Photo: 310Pix.com (Parker Posey)
  • Jordan 12 of 17
    Jordan
    Here's another case where the boys are winning. Although Jordan was one of the top unisex names of the 90s, it's starting to decline in popularity for girls (quickly slipping out of the Top 100) while sitting high at #46 for boys.

    The interesting thing about Jordan is that it started as a unisex name, used for all children baptized in Holy Water from the river Jordan. Yet Michael Jordan's superstardom certainly had something to do with it recently skyrocketing to fame.

    Photo: Wikipedia (Michael Jordan)
  • Emerson 13 of 17
    Emerson
    Despite Emerson being a formerly male-only name, it's on the rise for both boys and girls. In fact, it's more popular for a girl than a boy right now — although it somehow hasn't lost its masculine charm for a boy.

    Photo: Amazon
  • Cameron 14 of 17
    Cameron
    Your mind might immediately go to Cameron Diaz, but this male surname is still much more popular for a boy than a girl. In fact, it saw a steady incline in 2011 for boys (now way up at #53), yet a slight dip for girls (down at #442).

    Photo: Wikipedia (Cameron Diaz)
    Photo: IMDB (Eric Stonestreet, plays "Cameron" on Modern Family)
  • Elliot/Elliott 15 of 17
    Elliot/Elliott
    Elliot is one of my very favorite names for boys, and I'm not the only one — over 2300 Eliot/Elliott boys were born last year, and its popularity is on the rise. But it's not only boys, but girls too — it entered the Top 1,000 last year over in the girl camp. This is one of the newest boy-turned-girl names (perhaps the nickname Elle is an appealing factor), but I sure hope it doesn't lose its boyish charm.

    Photo: Wikipedia
  • Harley 16 of 17
    Harley
    Despite its original biker-tough image, Harley is actually on the rise for girls. In fact, more than twice as many girl Harleys were born last year than boy Harleys.

    Photo: Wikipedia
  • Rory 17 of 17
    Rory
    Rory (which means "red king") is a fast-growing name for both boys and girls, with a pretty close split between genders. However the name is slightly used more for boys than girls — and only time will tell which pulls into the lead.

    Photo: Wikipedia (Alexis Bledel, played "Rory Gilmore" on Gilmore Girls)
    Photo: Twitter (Rory O'Malley, broadway actor)

The trend of gender-swapping has a long history, although the boy-names-on-girls saw a sharp spike in the 1970s to 1990s — mostly with the “girls-can-do-anything-boys-can-do” attitude, and quite possibly to give girls a leg-up in the job market. The surname trend also has a history in the South, where family names have traditionally been given to boys and girls for status reasons.

As of right now, male surnames are some of the trendiest names for girls (i.e. Madison, Addison, Kennedy, etc.), but it’s also becoming increasingly more acceptable — trendy, even — for ordinary boy names to be used for a girl. And this is usually because of two reasons: 1) It honors a family member or family name, or 2) parents just like the name (regardless of history or meaning). As for names firmly switching between genders, it seems like pop culture (celebrities, celebrity kids, or fictional characters) have a strong influence on feminizing or masculinizing a name.

 

More boy names that girls are taking (or have taken) over:

  • Reagan
  • Leighton
  • Kennedy
  • Avery (still popular for boys, but there were 1776 Avery boys vs. 7303 Avery girls born last year)
  • Reese
  • Blair
  • Sydney
  • Bailey
  • Aubrey
  • Leslie
  • Alexis (although “Alex” hasn’t lost its masculinity — almost equally used for boys and girls)
  • Brooke/Brook
  • Kendall
  • Emery (slowly drifting to the girls)
  • Taylor
  • Mackenzie
  • Madison
  • Cassidy
  • Haley
  • Lindsay
  • Riley (still very popular for boys — there were  3427 Riley boys vs. 5002 Riley girls born last year — but it’s heading in the girl direction)

More unisex names holding strong for the boys:

  • Alex
  • Rowan
  • Logan
  • Angel (popular in the Latin community)
  • Casey (falling popularity for both sexes — and I imagine Casey Anthony isn’t helping)
  • Drew
  • Ryan
  • Dylan
  • Toby
  • Jaden
  • Sawyer
  • Luca
  • Micah
  • Nico
  • Carter

What do you think of unisex names? Do you like boy names on girls? Do you avoid gender-neutral names altogether?

Sources: The Baby Name WizardNameberry, You Can’t Call It “It” (7 Deadly Trends)

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